Wants and Needs

My worldview starts from Frankl’s position that takes the psychological, biological and noölogical dimensions of a person into account. A human being is viewed holistically and incorporates the noetic (uniquely human) aspect.

What is the human mechanism for becoming aware of biological needs? Is there something uniquely human about this process of awareness?

We become aware of a need through a physiological mechanism. Hunger signals a need to eat. Thirst signals a need to drink. Fatigue signals a need for sleep.

Because of this, needs are sometimes confused with wants. Wants signal needs. Therefore we think that if we want it, it must be something we need.

However the human biological system comes with a limitation. Hunger only indicates that we have a need. It doesn’t indicate the amount we need. Therefore the possibility exists that we can want something we don’t need.

Ergo, we lack a mechanism for determining what we need. We cannot rely on wants alone because they can be misleading. There are all kinds of reasons we can want something and convince ourselves we need it when we don’t need it. This loss of our inner compass is the source of things as diverse as addictions and anorexia.

It is here that the noetic comes into place. The uniquely human ability to evaluate, calculate and assess through trial and error precisely how much we need of something provides the information raw biology cannot provide on its own.

To sum up: Although wants signal needs, wants are not the same as needs. Wants are not a problem. In fact they are very important. Without the mechanism of hunger we would not know that we need to eat.

However unexamined wants are a problem. If we don’t examine our needs precisely we won’t know how much we need and the amount that we give ourselves will be too much or too little. Wants are to needs as examined wants are to precise needs.

Thus examined needs are precisely-measured needs.

How can needs be measured?

The noetic dimension contributes an evaluative function. There are many ways to examine biological needs. Blood tests and other medical tests indicate certain needs. Sometimes simple experimentation works. Dietary or sleep needs can be tested by experimenting to see what is an amount that’s enough and not too much or too little.

Yet sugar causes the body to crave more sugar. Artificial flavorings and social eating desensitize and muddle the ability to know what we need.

Thus in addition to experimentation, the choice to increase sensitization in a way that would inform our real biological needs and to avoid artificial cravings that would confuse us is one of the important ways we can summon the human dimension in the service of optimal health.

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